meta-scriptOn New Album 'Jonny,' The Drums' Jonny Pierce Is Finished "Setting Myself Up To Lose" | GRAMMY.com
On New Album 'Jonny,' The Drums' Jonny Pierce Is Finished "Setting Myself Up To Lose"
Jonny Pierce of the Drums

Photo: Qiao Meng

interview

On New Album 'Jonny,' The Drums' Jonny Pierce Is Finished "Setting Myself Up To Lose"

The Drums' Jonny Pierce made some of his most beloved works via a sort of self-punishment. For his new album, 'Jonny,' the singer/songwriter decided to be gentle with himself — and the resultant work "encapsulates all that I am."

GRAMMYs/Oct 10, 2023 - 08:45 pm

Jonny Pierce's the Drums — once a proper band, now a solo project for years — has experienced laudable longevity in the indie sphere. And part of that owed a semi-flagellatory work ethic.

"I view it as almost like a punishing way to go about making music," Pierce tells GRAMMY.com. "I would get all by myself and drink a ton of iced coffee and be really caffeinated all day. And I'd put this pressure on myself.

"I'd start a song in the morning and it had to be finished by sundown," he continues. "And if I couldn't do that, I would feel guilty; I would feel angry at myself. I would start doubting my abilities. It was just kind of setting myself up to lose. It was kind of this unfair way of making music."

Granted, this resulted in plenty of excellent albums, like 2017's Abysmal Thoughts and 2019's Brutalism. "So it's not that it was all a wash, but it certainly wasn't good for me," Pierce says. So, for the new Drums album, Jonny — out Oct. 13 — he intended to treat himself with kindness.

This was a long time coming: Pierce has been outspoken about his "dismal and lonely and overall very confusing" upbringing at the hands of Pentecostal preachers — which included being subjected to conversion therapy. Speaking over Zoom from  a cabin in upstate New York and joined by his little dog, Pierce exudes an earned sense of serenity.

"She's sleeping because we spent about two and a half hours this morning throwing a ball into the lake, and her retrieving it," Pierce says with a smile — liberated from his own, decidedly unfun Sisyphean loop.

Read on for an interview with Pierce about how the spectrum of feelings within Jonny,why the next Drums record might be all electronic, and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What was the initial spark of inspiration for Jonny?

Honestly, when I started writing this album, I didn't know that I was starting an album.

I had decided to take some time away from recording music a couple of years before the pandemic hit. I don't want this to be a commercial for therapy, but I had started therapy, and it almost from the get-go started kind of revolutionizing how I went about my life, how I saw myself, how I understood myself, and helped me be more intentional on my comings and goings throughout each day.

And so, for about six years ago now, I started going to this more gentle space where I was appreciating stillness and calm and working on being patient with myself and ultimately just being more kind and loving to myself.

What happened from there?

The pandemic happened in March of 2020. I ran out of New York and came right up here to this cabin that I had. I thought I'd be here for a couple of weeks, and I ended up staying here for about a year and a couple of months.

In that time, I was able to focus even more, because everything was at such a standstill. I was able to be extra still and extra calm and take long walks in nature. And I was taking psilocybin here and there, which helped me kind of go to the deeper parts of my heart and understand and kind of unlock doors that had been locked my whole life.

I got a little puppy at eight weeks and started raising her. There was just this sweetness and this softness in the air that whole year for me. And in the midst of all of that, there were moments where I just felt very organically my whole body, the body that I was learning to be in touch with for the first time in my life sort of became my messenger.

I let my body kind of be the artist, and be the green light — or the red light — for when I would record. So, there were times where I would record a song in a day and that was great. And then I would wait two months and then maybe just record a bass line and then I would wait a couple of weeks and a lyric would come to me.

I like to view how I made this album as I was given a giant block of marble from the top of a beautiful mountain, and every day or every couple weeks or every month, I would just approach it with a little chisel and just chip away here and there as much as I wanted or as little as I wanted and just let it be.

And after a couple of years of doing this, I was learning about patience. My managers were becoming impatient and reached out and asked if I had any music. And I said, "Well, I've got a bunch of songs." I think I had something like 14.

I said, "But these were just kind of exercises of understanding maybe a new way of working, and these songs really aren't meant to be shared with anyone." And they said, "well, just send over what you have." I said, "OK, but I haven't even begun my album." And the next day, they called me and said, "Jonny, these are the best songs you've ever written, and this is a beautiful album."

Wow. How did you respond to that?

I kind of got in an argument with them. In my head, that was not possible.

As I was listening to these songs and kind of trying to work on a tracklisting, there'd be one song that was about being joyful and falling in love and being in a blissful state. And the song directly after that was about being sexually abused. And then there's a song about being nurtured by a mother, and the song before that is a song of rage and anger and anguish about not being loved.

That's a heavy contrast.

I think that's why I never saw it as an album, because there were so many parts of it that seemed at odds with each other. But as I was kind of going through it, I started to realize that that's what made it beautiful. That's actually what made it very human, and that's what made it very me, Jonny.

I have all of those parts and I have all of those feelings and a lot of how I feel about things conflict. And there are parts of me that get along really well. There's parts of me that can't stand each other. And it just felt like suddenly it was like I had this tracklisting, and it was standing in front of a mirror and seeing my whole self.

So, that's why I called it Jonny. There's 16 tracks, and I think each one is sort of a chance for a different, younger version of myself — whether it's the baby or the toddler or the child or the teenager or the emerging adult or even modern day Jonny or even future Jonny.

There was a space on this record for all of them to finally [be heard], from a place of understanding and not chaos — which was all the other albums, crying out from chaos and feeling lost.

I have things I finally understand. There's pain that I see and I get versus just blindly feeling pain, and I now want to talk about that pain. I now want to talk about that joy. I now want to talk about that rage because I have a better grasp on it.

So, there's something very healing in this record for me that I was able to go to those spaces and explore them rather than just kind of stabbing at the dark, trying to figure out what's wrong.

The Drums - Jonny - Embed Image - Album Cover

*The album art for The Drums’* Jonny\*.\*

How did that newfound sense of gentieness and intention translate to the actual music-making process?

I never took lessons to learn any techniques or processes… but I do record everything on my own with sort of a home studio. I honestly just have always fumbled around until I've found something that kind of works for me where my whole body says, Yes, that's it right there, and then I'll just record it as best as I can. It's a pretty DIY approach.

But this time around, it was the same process of fumbling, letting myself get there, being patient. But I not only wanted to honor where I was, which is the singer of the Drums and the songwriter for the Drums, which most people know as an indie rock or indie pop band.

I wanted to honor that part of my artistry. But I also wanted to go back in time and honor the younger Jonnys who maybe didn't get their musical voice heard.

Tell me about younger Jonny, as per your musical development.

When I was about 13, I fell in love with analog synthesizers. This was in the '90s, and it was when everyone was obsessed with digital synthesizers because digital was all the rage.

So, I fell in love with synth pop. And I started to collect old synthesizers with money that I had saved up and writing songs. I had a specific synthesizer called the Sequential Circuits MultiTrak. People know the Prophet series; the MultiTrak was much lesser known. But it had this really amazing onboard sequencer where you could sequence up to six voices.

And so I had these funny little analog synth, full songs sequenced, and I would record to a Tascam reel to reel in my bedroom. All this stuff was stuff that I stole from my father's church when they would buy new equipment for the worship services.

That was my first love, and I still am drawn to electronic music more than anything else. And I think in the end, the Drums may just turn into a fully electronic act — I don't know.

But on this record, there's a handful of songs where the synthesizer is the leading instrument where there's just not much going on but a synth sequence and vocal. And that's how a lot of my songs when I was a kid were structured and how they sounded.

So in a way, I'm letting the younger versions of myself finally get their shot at being heard out in the world, and there's something really sweet about that to me.

The other big thing is just letting some of these songs rest after they're done. There's a song called "Be Gentle" that has sort of a 1950s girl group sort of thing going on — which is a thread that goes back to the very beginnings of the Drums, the Shangri-Las being one of my biggest influences.

But when the song's done, it just gets this nice instrumental outro that just kind of lasts maybe a little too long on purpose, just letting the idea is that the song worked hard and it gets to relax at the end. And it's kind of a reflection of how I try to live my life now — in a more caring and gentle way.

Give me a tune on Jonny that exemplifies those qualities.

There are two songs that are kind of sister songs. I actually call them "the twins."

There's a big theme of motherhood and motherly nurture on the record and birth and rebirth. So I'd like to view these two songs as kind of twins being born because they showed up at the same time, and they're right next to each other on the album.

The first is called "Harms," which is kind of a song of anger that I was not loved as a child. And it's a short little moment on the album, and just as it's ending, it flips into the next song kind of seamlessly.

But the next song ["Little Jonny"] is from the viewpoint of a mother — in this case, the mother that I have developed in me to re-mother myself. And it's words of love and kindness and nurture and encouragement. I'm saying things to my younger self, "I love you. I'm never going anywhere. I'm really proud of you. I'm never leaving you." All of those things that I think as a little boy, I would've just absolutely died to hear.

I think for me, that is the most powerful moment of my entire career — those two songs together.

And which would you characterize as the lightest, or most jubilant song? The clearest reflection of joy?

It's a song called "Obvious," and I'm always a little shy about writing happy songs.

Happiness, for a lot of my life, has been kind of this abstract thing, but I skip little flashes up here and there, and I try to grab onto it and it slips out of my fingers and it feels so elusive, where sadness is cozy for me. I've been with it so long. I understand it. It becomes my friend. It's actually my greatest writing partner.

Happy songs rarely touch my heart in the way that maybe a sad song would. But "Obvious" is  a really go-get-'em pop song ultimately about falling in love and realizing that the person that you've needed all along, it's right there in front of you.And then embracing that notion with all of your heart. So it's a joyful song, and when I wrote it, I was feeling that way, and I would even get goosebumps.

When I locked in that chorus, I remember just feeling blissful and warm and excited, but now when I try to engage with that song, it's a lot harder for me to connect to.

So, my happy songs — I always think they're my least favorite songs, but it was a moment that happened and I do experience joy in my life, and I felt it appropriate to include it on the album, because this album encapsulates all that I am.

Fruit Bats' Eric D. Johnson On New Album A River Running To Your Heart & His Career Of "Small Victories"

15 Must-Hear Albums This October: Troye Sivan, Drake, Blink 182, NCT 127 & More
(Clockwise) Black Pumas, Blink-182, Taylor Swift, Gucci Mane, Sampha, BoyWithUke, Troye Sivan

Photos (L-R): Jody Dominigue; Jack Bridgland; Michael Tranafp; Paras Griffin/Getty Images; Jim Dyson/Getty Images; courtesy of the artist; Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images;

list

15 Must-Hear Albums This October: Troye Sivan, Drake, Blink 182, NCT 127 & More

Don't let the falling leaves bring you down — read on for 15 albums dropping in October from Taylor Swift, Gucci Mane and Riley Green.

GRAMMYs/Oct 2, 2023 - 03:22 pm

Fall has already begun, and 2023 enters its final act with the beginning of October. However, that doesn't mean the music has to slow down — this month offers plenty of new releases for everyone from rap fans to country aficionados.

The month starts with Sufjan Stevens and the release of Javelin, his first fully-written album in eight years. On the same day, after several postponements, Drake will finally put forth For All the Dogs. Later in the month, blink-182 will make a long-awaited return with One More Time…, their first album featuring the original members since 2011, and Migos rapper Offset will drop his sophomore record, Set It Off.

There's also new work from Troye Sivan, NCT 127, Metric, Gucci Mane, and Taylor Swift closing off the month with the re-release of 1989 (Taylor's Version).

Don't let the falling leaves bring you down — below, GRAMMY.com compiled a guide with 15 must-hear albums dropping October 2023.

Sufjan Stevens - Javelin

Release date: Oct. 6

The last time Sufjan Stevens released an album fully written by himself was 2015's Carrie & Lowell. Javelin, his upcoming tenth studio album, will finally break this spell.

Mostly recorded at Stevens' home studio and featuring contributions from several friends (including the National's Bryce Dessner), the 10 tracks of Javelin bring back sounds of "70s Los Angeles' studio opulence" and vibes of a "detailed yet plain" self-portrait, according to a press release.

The album also features a cover of Neil Young's "There's a World" and an ambitious, 48-page art book with collages and essays written by Stevens. Javelin is preceded by the soothing single "So You Are Tired" and the spaced-out "Will Anybody Ever Love Me?"

NCT 127 - Fact Check

Release date: Oct. 6

Within the NCT constellation, NCT 127 is the subgroup anchored in South Korea's buzzing capital, Seoul. Since debuting in 2016, the nine-member ensemble has been infusing the city's vibrancy with innovative EDM and hip hop mixes.

On Oct. 6, NCT 127 will return with their fifth studio album, Fact Check, bringing in another round of their experimental K-pop sound. Consisting of nine songs, including lead single "Fact

Check (Mysterious; 不可思議)," the album expresses 127's confidence.

So far, they released a wealth of teasers that are linked to NCT's overall "dream" concept, video contents, and a highlight medley of the album tracks. After the recent ronclusion of NCT Nation, NCT's first full-group concert in South Korea and Japan, fans are expecting 127 to announce tour dates.

BoyWithUke - Lucid Dreams

Release date: Oct. 6

Mysterious masked singer and TikTok phenomenon BoyWithUke will continue his dream-themed saga with the release of Lucid Dreams, his fourth studio album.

According to a statement by the Korean American star, Lucid Dreams is meant to express "my desires, my fears, my past, and my dreams." He also adds that the each song on the album is "like a different step on the path. I'm facing past traumas, making the music I want to make, and figuring out who I am."

That development can be seen on pre-releases "Migraine" and "Trauma," where he opens up about mental health and childhood struggles over signature ukulele strings. In his own words, this album is truly "BoyWithUke blossoming, spreading his wings, and finding himself."

Drake - For All the Dogs

Release date: Oct. 6

After several postponements, Drake's eighth studio album is finally ready to meet the world. For All the Dogs is spearheaded by singles "Search & Rescue" and "Slime You Out" featuring SZA.

The album's tracklist is still a mystery, but it will reportedly feature names like Nicki Minaj, Bad Bunny, and Yeat, with production credits from 40, Bnyx, and Lil Yachty, among others. For All the Dogs is also linked to the Canadian rapper's debut poetry book, Titles Ruin Everything: A Stream of Consciousness — a 168-page collection written in partnership with longtime friend and songwriter Kenza Samir.

The album follows Drake's two 2022 studio albums: Honestly, Nevermind and Her Loss, in collaboration with 21 Savage. Currently, Drake is finishing up his It's All A Blur North American tour — one of the reasons why the album has been postponed before.

Troye Sivan - Something to Give Each Other

Release date: Oct. 13

On an Instagram post, Australian singer Troye Sivan stated: "This album is my something to give you — a kiss on a dancefloor, a date turned into a weekend, a crush, a winter, a summer. Party after party, after party after after party. Heartbreak, freedom. Community, sisterhood, friendship. All that."

Something to Give Each Other is Sivan's first full-length album in five years, following 2018's Bloom. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he revealed many of the inspirations behind this work, including partying, movies like Lost in Translation and Before Sunrise, and simple, ice-cold glasses of beer.

The trippy atmosphere of the album can be felt through pre-release singles "Rush" and "Got Me Started" — which features a sample of Bag Raider's omnipresent 2011 hit, "Shooting Stars." 

Offset - Set It Off

Release date: Oct. 13

Migos rapper Offset said in a statement that his sophomore album, Set It Off, took over two years to finalize. "This season is personal for me. It marks a new chapter in my life," he added.

A follow-up to his 2019 debut LP, Father of 4, the album will feature appearances by stellar names such as rapper Future, Travis Scott, Chloe Bailey, and Latto, as well as Offset's wife Cardi B, who appears on single "Jealousy."

Later in the statement, Offset said he feels "like Michael Jackson coming from a successful group breaking records to superstardom on my own. This body of work is healing for me and a letter to my fans and supporters." Lead single "Fan" brings back that comparison through many Michael Jackson references in the music video — a clever choice for the rapper's keen self-awareness.

Metric - Formentera II

Release date: Oct. 13

Exactly one year after the release of Formentera, indie royalty Metric took to social media to announce their ninth studio album, Formentera II. "Sometimes I feel like I'm in a damn maze and maybe you do too, or maybe you have it totally together, or maybe you feel like you're always floating somewhere in between," they wrote. "Wherever you're at right now, I am here to guide you to the rocking️ conclusion of our Formentera I & II odyssey."

The Canadian band also shared lead single "Just the Once," which was described by vocalist Emily Haines as a "regret disco" song in a press statement. "It's a song for when you need to dance yourself clean," she added. "Beneath the sparkling surface, there's a lyrical exploration of a simple word with many meanings. Once is a word that plays a game of opposites."

In support of the release, Metric revealed another single, "Who Would You Be For Me," and will be playing special concerts in NYC, L.A., Toronto, London, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Monterrey, and Santiago starting Oct. 10. The concerts will also celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut LP, Old World Underground, Where Are You?

Riley Green - Ain't My Last Rodeo

Release date: Oct. 13

Alabama country star Riley Green has a moving story behind his second full-length album. Echoing the 2019 hit "I Wish Grandpas Never Died," Ain't My Last Rodeo came from one of the last conversations the singer shared with his late grandfather, Buford Green, who was an essential figure shaping his love for music and nature.

"I was fortunate enough to grow up within about three miles of my grandparents, so they were a huge part of my growing up and who I am — and this album is a lot of who I am," Green said in a press release. "This is really the first time I was able to really take my time, write and record songs that really felt like a cohesive album."

Ain't My Last Rodeo features 12 tracks (including a cover of Tim McGraw's "Damn Country Music")  and collaborations with Jelly Roll and Luke Combs. In February 2024, Green will embark on a 34-stop tour throughout the U.S.

The Drums - Jonny

Release date: Oct. 13

As its title suggests, the Drums' upcoming sixth studio album, Jonny, dives deep into current solo member Jonny Pierce's life. According to a press release, the album mainly explores "the deep-rooted childhood trauma Pierce experienced growing up in a cult-like religious community in upstate New York."

The singer explains further: "When I finished Jonny, I listened to it, and I heard my soul reflected back at me. It is devastating and triumphant, it is lost and found, it is confused and certain, it is wise and foolish. It is male and female, it is hard and gentle.

"To encapsulate one's whole self in an album, to honor each and every part of you, even the parts that feel at odds with each other, is to make something deeply human, and because my religion is humanism, the album becomes a sacred place for me to worship. Each feeling a different pew, each song a hymn to the human heart."

In the past few months, Pierce gave insight into the 16-track, indie-pop collection through singles "I Want It All," "Plastic Envelope," "Protect Him Always," "Obvious," and "Better." Jonny is the band's first full release since 2019's Brutalism.

Gucci Mane -  A Breath of Fresh Air

Release date: Oct. 17

Following 2016's Ice Daddy, Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane's sixteenth studio album will be named A Breath of Fresh Air.

In it, Mane is likely in his most vulnerable, relatable state yet. "I kind of wanted to let people know that I go through pain," he stated in an interview for Apple Music (via Revolt). "Like I said, I didn't want to have so much just superficial topics. I hit people and let them know, 'Hey, this was going on,' but it ain't a bad thing. It's okay to be happy. You know what I'm saying?"

According to iTunes, the album is set to have two discs and 24 songs, including singles "Bluffin" featuring Lil Baby, "Pissy"  featuring Roddy Ricch and Nardo Wick, "King Snipe" with Kodak Black, and "06 Gucci" with DaBaby and 21 Savage.

Release date: Oct. 20

blink-182's newest single, "One More Time," is a hard-earned reflection about what really matters in life. The punk rock trio, which hadn't been reunited since 2011's Neighborhoods, now realizes how personal struggles impacted their friendship, and how they hope to make it different in the future.

"I wish they told us, it shouldn't take a sickness/ or airplanes falling out of the sky," they sing, referencing Travis Barker's 2008 plane crash and Mark Hoppus' 2021 cancer diagnosis. "I miss you, took time, but I admit it/ It still hurts even after all these years."

A proof of maturity since they stepped into music in 1992, the heartfelt single is also the title track off upcoming LP One More Time... Featuring 2022's "Edging" and "More Than You Know" as well, the album was recorded mostly during their reunion tour this year, and boasts 17 tracks in total.

Sampha - Lahai

Release date: Oct. 20

Lahai is Sampha's grandfather's name and his own middle name. Now, it will become part of his musical history — the singer's sophomore studio album and follow up to 2017's acclaimed Process is due Oct. 20.

Over social media, Sampha described the record through a series of words as intriguing as his music: "Fever Dreams. Continuums. Dancing. Generations. Syncopation. Bridges. Grief. Motherlands. Love. Spirit. Fear. Flesh. Flight." Featuring contributions from singers like Yaeji, El Guincho and Yussef Dayes, it will feature 14 tracks that seemingly take a more positive tone than his previous work.

In a statement about lead single "Spirit 2.0," the south London singer said "it's about the importance of connection to both myself and others, and the beauty and harsh realities of just existing. It's about acknowledging those moments when you need help — that requires real strength."

Starting Oct. 12 in his hometown, Sampha will play a string of concerts throughout the U.K., Europe, and North America, wrapping it up on December 4 in Berlin, Germany.

Poolside - Blame It All On Love

Release date: Oct. 20

"I've spent 15 years being like, 'f—your rules,' and I finally feel like I'm not trying to prove anything or anyone wrong," says Jeffrey Paradise, the man behind "daytime disco" project Poolside, in a statement about his upcoming album, Blame It All On Love.

"It's just pure, unfiltered expression, and that's why I'm really excited about this record," he adds. The album bears 11 tracks described as "funky, soulful, laidback, and full of hooks" — as can be seen in singles like "Float Away," "Each Night" featuring Mazy, and "Back To Life" with Panama. According to the same statement, "the production marks a return to his live music roots and finds ease in simple and radiant layers of sound, even as it comes face-to-face with the complex reality of one's dreams come true."

Blame It All On Love is the follow-up to 2020 and 2021's duo Low Season and High Season. Poolside is on tour across the U.S. until Oct. 14.

Black Pumas - Chronicles of a Diamond

Release date: Oct. 27

Black Pumas' long-awaited second studio album, Chronicles of a Diamond, is "wilder and weirder" than its predecessor, according to an official statement. It is also the Austin-based duo's "fullest expression" of "frenetic creativity and limitless vision."

The album contains 10 tracks that expand on their trademark psychedelic soul sounds, as it can be seen in singles "More Than a Love Song" and "Mrs. Postman." "I wanted to make something we'd be thrilled to play live 200 days a year," says singer/songwriter Eric Burton in the same statement. "I wanted to be able to laugh, cry, bob my head, do the thing: it was all very much a selfish endeavor."

After the release, the Black Pumas will embark on a U.S. tour starting Dec. 4 in Austin, Texas, and follow into an European tour starting March 15 in Paris.

Taylor Swift - 1989 (Taylor's Version)

Release date: Oct. 27

Just three months after the release of Speak Now (Taylor's Version), Swifties will be treated to the singer's fourth re-recorded album this month: 2014's 1989. "To be perfectly honest, this is my most FAVORITE re-record I've ever done because the five From The Vault tracks are so insane," she revealed over social media.

As usual with Swift, the announcement of the album was marked by a slew of hints, starting with the news' date — Aug. 9, or 8/9 — during the final U.S. stop of her Eras Tour at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium. On that day, she also debuted new, blue outfits that alluded to 1989's assigned color. Afterwards, the discovery continued through a partnership with Google Search for fans to solve word puzzles in order to discover the titles of the five "From the Vault" tracks.

The album, which Swift said "changed my life in countless ways" will be available in digital, cassette, CD, and vinyl. She will also release deluxe versions in four different colors: crystal skies blue, rose garden pink, aquamarine green, and sunrise boulevard yellow.

Behind Mark Ronson's Hits: How Boogie Nights, Five-Hour Jams & Advice From Paul McCartney Inspired His Biggest Singles & Collabs

For Laura Jane Grace, Record Cycles Can Be A 'Hole In My Head' — And She's OK With That
Laura Jane Grace

Photo: Travis Shinn

interview

For Laura Jane Grace, Record Cycles Can Be A 'Hole In My Head' — And She's OK With That

Punk veteran Laura Jane Grace came up as the frontwoman for Against Me!. Now, she's out with her second solo album, 'Hole In My Head' — and all the publicity that comes with it — during a tectonic shift in her life.

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2024 - 10:54 pm

Laura Jane Grace is on the precipice of a brand new life.

The Against Me! frontwoman just got married in a whirlwind, to comedian Paris Campbell. Her Jeep got sideswiped by a drunk driver; when we spoke, the pair were on an Amtrak from Chicago to St. Louis to pick it up from the mechanic. At press time, Grace and Campbell will soon drive it back to their new, shared home in Chicago: they've been handed the keys, and they're in the center of that maelstrom.

"We've moved Paris' apartment from New York to Chicago, and now we're moving my apartment to the house we got," Grace tells GRAMMY.com over the phone, sitting on the tracks with Campbell in Joliet, Illinois. "It's scientifically proven that moving is one of the most stressful things you can do in life.

"Just take my word for it," she quips, when asked if that's true. "Don't Google it."

Grace has done a lot of Googling as of late — to mixed results. Her latest solo album, Hole in My Head — helmed by Drive-By Trucker and Dexateen Matt Patton — dropped Feb. 16, and the press cycle rolls on.

Warm, lived-in and melodic songs like "Dysphoria Hoodie," "Birds Talk Too" and "Tacos and Toast" comprise a satisfying continuation of what Grace does best: yowly, heartfelt punk rock. But presenting them to the world has been challenging. Tidbits from the bio get blown out of proportion. Flat-out mischaracterizations make it to print, and stay there.

She's not bitter about any of it; she's mirthful. "I do think that, ultimately, [you shouldn't] read the reviews, and that you shouldn't live and die by what people say about the art you're making," she says. "But I would rather people are saying good things than bad things. I notice that people are saying good things."

They certainly are. Read on for an interview with Grace about the process behind Hole in My Head, parenting, espresso, Slash versus Izzy Stradlin, and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

I'm sure you've talked about these songs to death. I want to talk about the — let's say indignities — of releasing a record. Like, "Hey guys, it's three weeks old! Do… you still like it?" as it recedes into the rearview.

Yeah. I was thinking that to myself last night, because I'm a little burnt out on social media at the moment. But I feel that pressure of like, Alright, you put out a record, you've got to promote on social media — you'd better make a post or else people are going to forget that literally last week you put out a record that you've been waiting a year to put out!

And it can be a little disheartening at times, for sure.

Psychologically, what's it like to read the reviews? It seems like the doomsday clock for digital media is at 11:59. Reviews used to make or break careers; these days, they seem to comprise an irrelevant sideshow.

It's strange, because I still think of reviews ultimately in the context of how I thought about them with zines. Oftentimes, you would look through zines and you would see the reviews, and that would be your clue and context of what was happening — other bands to tour with if they had a record coming out, or whatever. People that you'd reach out to.

I do think that, ultimately, [you shouldn't] read the reviews, and that you shouldn't live and die by what people say about the art you're making. But I would rather people are saying good things than bad things. I notice that people are saying good things.

And then also, as you said, I'm aware of the layoffs [in music journalism and digital media as a whole], and I'm aware that you've almost got to be thankful for [any press], as a whole community.

Part of my job is promoting those media outlets in a way, too. And that's just through literally just moving your thumb a couple of inches or whatever and pressing repost or retweet or whatever.

You had a funny tweet recently about how the reviews focus on the relative brevity of the songs, even though that's conventional on pop radio. Is that kind of thing somewhat bemusing — or frustrating?

I get frustrated with it, because the record took two years to write, and then it takes however long to record. But then, it all comes down to the bio. The bio is what all the journalists use as their touch points or talking points.

So, if you say the wrong thing in the bio, then everyone is asking those wrong questions for every interview. It's like that the whole time. It's almost like the bio makes or breaks your record.

And then, you're also tasked with trying to understand something that you just made; with a bio, that's oftentimes really hard to do. You're like, "I don't know, I just wrote it. I don't know what it means. I don't want to have to explain it," but then you got to explain it for the bio.

Without naming any names — and you can obscure the language if you like — what's an example of a wrong question you get asked?

The song length thing is one thing, but then the whole thing where people being like, "Oh, the record has a real '50s influence." It's like, "Shut the f— up. It just says that in the bio. Did you even listen to the record? Have you heard it?"

It just sounds like an Against Me! record. It's literally the same process that I've been doing for the past 25 years. I'm not writing songs any differently or approaching them any differently. I read one review that said that it had "handclaps and whoas, which are decidedly not punk." I'm like, What?

Outside of the press, where are we catching you in life, with Hole in My Head out in the world? You're on the precipice of a completely new epoch of existence.

That's what it is. Huge, massive changes happening in life. And that's the thing you don't want to happen in a way, with a record — where a year in between completing it and putting it out because you've got to pull yourself back to that place to even talk about it for interviews then, which can be hard sometimes.

I'm excited about songs that we recorded back in December and then excited about writing new music and just now having a record released holds you in place in that way. So, having it out is a good thing, and [being] free to move forward.

This is a cliché, but whatever: Hole in My Head sounds like a snapshot of where you are in the moment. Some records feel like promotional noise and don't tell me anything about the artist. Have you written in that slice-of-life, "Tacos and Toast" way before?

I think I was building towards that. I am happy with the way that song came out, but it took a lot of work to get to that kind of flow. But I think a song like "Shelter In Place," off of Stay Alive, was a precursor to that style, maybe.

Are you talking about honing your focus on syllables and stresses and stuff? Or themes?

More just relaxing into it.

Tell me more about that.

Like I said, the song "Shelter In Place" was a precursor to that song, because they both mention espresso. So, you're singing about your morning coffee, which to an 18-year-old punk kid probably seems really uninteresting. But when you're in your forties, you're like, Hell yeah. My morning cup of espresso — looking forward to that. I want to sing about that. I'm excited about that.

But I think it takes a nuance to be able to work that into a song. And I admire songwriters like John Prine or Dan Reeder, who were able to sing about their morning breakfast steaks and s— like that and make it good.

**I'm a huge John Prine fan. I don't sense he sat down and overworked anything. It all seemed as natural as breathing. So, it's almost like unlearning.**

Totally. That is what it is: natural as breathing, if you're writing about eggs, you're not trying, and it's coming off way better. And there we are with a Jonathan Richman reference: "They're not tryin' on the dance floor."

I'm not going to make you explain this song, because it's a song. But "I'm Not a Cop" touched a nerve in me, as per how we police each other day-to-day.

There's that, and then I think also it even relates to being a parent and realizing you don't have the authoritarian bone in your body and that that's not you, but I don't know. There might not be many things I'm confident about in life, but I'm definitely confident about that statement.

And, also the observation of seeing a cop at Superdawg eating a hot dog. It makes me smile every time I sing it.

Tell me more.

Literally, I drove by the Superdawg, which is a famous hot dog place in Chicago, and there was a cop in there eating a hot dog. It's f—ing hilarious.

Has parenting been a mind-bending, acid-like experience for you? Or did it all come naturally?

Yeah, mind-bending for sure. Last night, I got in a pseudo-argument with my kid, because they were criticizing me for only playing rhythm guitar that I never played solos. [Note: Grace's child uses they/them pronouns.]

They were specifically saying this because they're just a better guitar player than me already. And they really have focused on solos and doing really intricate guitar playing parts. I'm like, Goddamn, this is just surreal to have your kid digging into you about your guitar playing style

Basically, they're saying they're Slash, and you're Izzy Stradlin — suck it.

Are they hitting ultimate-guitar.com? What's going on?

They're rad. They're really, really, really good. I feel like they're seconds away from starting their own band.

What are their influences?

I gave them a Fleas and Lice record yesterday to listen to. They're really into punk, and really into odd stuff. At this point, I'm looking to them to see what's going on and what I should be listening to.

You mentioned that this is the process you've always abided by. But, can you talk about any special production flourishes here, or anything like that?

I was working with what I had. If I had had a drummer with me at the time, it would've been a  different record. But I didn't, so the drums came out the way they did.

I think the biggest addition and blessing with the record is Matt Patton. Him raising his hand and going to drive up to St. Louis — having never met me before — and spending a week in the studio. The parts he came up with are so rad; they make those songs. If it weren't for him, it would've been an entirely different record.

One thing I don't like to do when finishing a record, is listen to it comparatively to the record before it. Even sonically, I want to be surprised by it down the road.

Is making a record almost an uncomfortable experience, where you don't want to look at it too long? Is it like staring into the sun?

Yeah. That's ill-advised. I was actually thinking about that earlier. We were driving down and the sun was coming up and I was staring at it and I was like, Don't look into the sun you fucking idiot."

I think the uncomfortable part of the experience is the necessary part of the experience, and you have to push through the uncomfortable to get to the comfortable part — to know that you've got a good record.

Decoration Day At 20: How Drive-By Truckers Dialed Back The Satire And Opened Their Hearts

GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Baby Keem Celebrate "Family Ties" During Best Rap Performance Win In 2022
Baby Keem (left) at the 2022 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

video

GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Baby Keem Celebrate "Family Ties" During Best Rap Performance Win In 2022

Revisit the moment budding rapper Baby Keem won his first-ever gramophone for Best Rap Performance at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards for his Kendrick Lamar collab "Family Ties."

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2024 - 05:50 pm

For Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar, The Melodic Blue was a family affair. The two cousins collaborated on three tracks from Keem's 2021 debut LP, "Range Brothers," "Vent," and "Family Ties." And in 2022, the latter helped the pair celebrate a GRAMMY victory.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, turn the clock back to the night Baby Keem accepted Best Rap Performance for "Family Ties," marking the first GRAMMY win of his career.

"Wow, nothing could prepare me for this moment," Baby Keem said at the start of his speech.

He began listing praise for his "supporting system," including his family and "the women that raised me and shaped me to become the man I am."

Before heading off the stage, he acknowledged his team, who "helped shape everything we have going on behind the scenes," including Lamar. "Thank you everybody. This is a dream."

Baby Keem received four nominations in total at the 2022 GRAMMYs. He was also up for Best New Artist, Best Rap Song, and Album Of The Year as a featured artist on Kanye West's Donda.

Press play on the video above to watch Baby Keem's complete acceptance speech for Best Rap Performance at the 2022 GRAMMYs, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

How The 2024 GRAMMYs Saw The Return Of Music Heroes & Birthed New Icons

25 Years Later, 'No Exit' Shows Blondie Galvanizing Its Identity
(L to R:) Leigh Foxx, Clem Burke, Paul Carbonara (front), Jimmy Destri, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie backstage in 1999.

Photo: Patrick Ford/Redferns/GettyImages

feature

25 Years Later, 'No Exit' Shows Blondie Galvanizing Its Identity

Released in 1999 after a 15-year hiatus, Blondie's 'No Exit' was more than a reunion album. The edgy, eclectic and innovative album pulled Blondie back from the brink of history and into a new millennium.

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2024 - 04:22 pm

"We felt there was no exit from Blondie," Clem Burke, long-standing drummer of Blondie, said in 1999. 

Burke was speaking on the occasion of Blondie's new record, aptly titled No Exit. At the time, the band had reunited after a 15-year absence and, according to Burke, "reared its head again, a four-headed monster." 

Although Burke jested about being unable to shake the pull of the band, No Exit was an edgy, eclectic and innovative record that pulled Blondie back from the brink of history and into a new millennium. The 17-track album saw the band restart their musical mission, delivering genre-blending punk music that brought experimental sounds to the mainstream while also parodying Americana. The reckless abandon shown with No Exit — from music genres to public image — proved a direct through-line to their peak new wave output.

No Exit was certainly a long time coming. The idea of a "reunion" for the famed band was never in the cards; even the idea of a greatest hits record was a no-go.After the release of 1982’s The Hunter — an album that fared poorly with critics and achieved little impact on the charts — the group chose to disband. Co-founder Chris Stein was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and took time away from music; lead singer Debbie Harry began caring for partner Stein while also pursuing a solo music career and acting opportunities (including John WatersHairspray); Burke went on to play drums for the likes of the Romantics and Iggy Pop; keyboardist Jimmy Destri began producing music for Prince and INXS

A true reunion had to involve new music and a relaunch too. Stein recalled watching Jerry Maguire for the first time while recording No Exit in 1998. "I got all teary-eyed because the movie’s all about getting a second chance," he told the L.A. Times. "And that’s what this is about, you know? We’re getting a second chance."

Released on Feb. 23, 1999, No Exit was an energetic and eclectic mix of classic Blondie genres — pop and rock, reggae and rap — that pitched the band to a generation. No Exit eased the band back into a musical landscape dominated by rhythmic hip-hop tracks, velvet R&B anthems and thumping heavy metal.

Audiences at the dawn of the new millennium were already enjoying the success of other girl-fronted rock ensembles; groups like No Doubt, Garbage, and the Cranberries owed Blondie and Harry some credit for trailblazing. (Even if being a female-fronted band became a thorn in Blondie’s side, as seen by their 1978 "campaign" to correct the record with "Blondie is a group!" buttons.) 

Now returning to the charts with such peers, Blondie signaled to the world their assignment was never over — even aging rockers could challenge music conventions and be punk again. Harry was center stage once more, reviving the band’s famed part-parody and part-femme fatale blond bombshell image for a new audience (and Blondie diehards). 

Lead track "Maria" — a spirited song about romantic desire that also plays on religious idol worship — wasn’t quite classic Blondie but a sweet pop treat  The song 

hit No. 1 on the U.K. charts and also topped charts in Spain and Poland. Blondie were officially back in action, but their status left Stein a bit uneasy. "Now we were on the receiving end of a lot of accolades. At times it felt odd being hit with all the ‘legendary’ labels," Stein writes in his upcoming memoir, Under a Rock.

But it was no small feat to get Blondie back together. When they disbanded in 1982, they acknowledged that it was a "madhouse," with endless fighting and arguments all while Stein began to deteriorate from his chronic illness. While the band had sold more than 40 million albums in their decade-plus together and cemented themselves in the cultural lexicon, a new question emerged: Would their formerly edgy and eclectic sound resonate again?

Part of the band’s advantage in 1999 was also their original musical hallmark: a lack of a loyalty to any singular genre. 

No Exit embraced Blondie’s classic musical eclecticism — a quality that saw some critics deride the record. An "album of hollow new-wave, ska, and rap retreads," Entertainment Weekly opined while Rolling Stone argued it "indulge[d] in the kind of dilettantish genre dabbling that preceded their 1982 demise." But Blondie’s uniqueness was always that their music output resisted easy classification; it wouldn’t be Blondie without any genre experimentation. 

While looking back was important for the band when recording No Exit, it was also key to finding ways to appeal to a new generation of listeners. "We’re part of the future as well as the past," Harry said in 1999. "One of the stipulations I had was that it not be just a revue of Blondie’s greatest hits. I really felt convinced of and dedicated to the idea that we had to move ahead and do new music." That also extended to playfully redoing tracks they had originally recorded in the 1970s, including the Sangri-Las’ "Out in the Street."

Other songs on No Exit showed a playful and wry tenor, as the four original members were seemingly having fun reconnecting with each other. "Forgive and Forget (Pull Down the Night)" is a smooth and synthy dance track that recalls the Pet Shop Boys and gestures at forgiving past transgressions. Blondie cosplays as a country ensemble on "The Dream’s Lost on Me" with a structured and rhythmic country ballad that elevates Harry’s vocals. "Screaming Skin" takes their past reggae influences  and recasts them in a rapid-fire rock song about breaking the betrayal of one’s body (likely a reference to Stein’s pemphigus condition attacking his skin).

Touring No Exit also fermented worries about Blondie’s legacy. "I don’t wanna appear preposterous on stage," Harry said at the time. In an attempt to defy such expectations, Blondie chose to perform the album’s hip-hop influenced title track during the American Music Awards, even bringing Coolio onstage.

The performance was true Blondie, which had long collaborated with artists of other genres to appeal to new audiences (their "Rapture" featuring Fab Five Freddy being case in point). "I was pleased with the mixed reaction," Stein said after the AMAs. "I’d much rather have us do something controversial than safe."

Today, "No Exit" might sound like a jarring marriage between classical music — with its use of Bach’s "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" — and thumping modern rap, but it isn’t a serious sonic exercise. Blondie instead impishly reminds us of the endless loop ("no exit") of their past music and the music industry, as their famed tunes might as well be as dated as those of the baroque era. The band goes philosophical with the reboot — even nodding to Jean-Paul Sartre’s bleak existential play No Exit — but conversely finds freedom adopting this adage. 

The 1999 regrouping netted Blondie chart success, new fandom, and a world tour. Yet it also brought up some personal problems. In Under a Rock, Stein admitted he was trying to gradually decrease his use of methadone, but touring demands made recovery difficult.

Still, Blondie’s return helped galvanize their popular image as enduring punk and new wave pioneers. (It might not be surprising that no Blondie album since has charted as high as No Exit at No. 18 in the U.S. and No. 3 in the U.K.) The band hasn’t pumped the brakes either, riding the renewed popularity for decades since with new music and tours of the world over.

But No Exit offered audiences something that their four following albums haven't achieved: a cutting and experimental sound that also acknowledged the artifice of the pop rock music they were making. Even recent successes like 2017’s Pollinator sounded fun and youthful, but were a largely series of songs written or co-written by other artists that aimed to appease current pop music tastes. 

The album title might sound suffocating or even nihilistic, but to Blondie No Exit was a belated self-acceptance. "I mean, there is no exit," Harry commented to journalist Michael Hill in 2013. "You work so hard to establish something, and then that’s it, there you are." 

Twenty-five years on, Blondie showed a dawning new millennium who they were: A punk band who embraced sounds with abandon while celebrating the fantasy of being dissent rock stars. Like reading a sign "last exit before freeway," Blondie saw No Exit as a moment to hit the gas and drive straight on through.    

'The Smiths' At 40: How The Self-Titled Debut Fired An Opening Shot For Indie Rock